It’s important to always get veterinary help for sick or injured pets. When the cat or dog may die within minutes, and the vet clinic is across town, pet first aid saves cat and dog lives. Here are the top emergencies that can’t wait for a veterinarian.
Pet First Aid: Top 7 Symptoms
1. Stopped Breathing & Rescue Breathing
When a cat or dog stops breathing, you don’t have time for a twenty-minute ride to the emergency clinic. Near drowning, biting through electrical cords, and blunt force trauma from falls or car accidents can stop breathing. Artificial respiration, also called rescue breathing, can save your pet.
For drowning, fish her out of the hot tub and dangle her upside down by rear legs (or around her waist for big dogs). That drains the water and may be all that’s needed. If not, perform mouth-to-NOSE rescue breathing at a rate of fifteen to twenty breaths per minute. Seal your pet’s mouth with your hand, and place your lips around and over the nose.
The same rate applies to any size pet, but you’ll need to blow a bit harder for big dogs and only ‘puff’ air for baby animals. Watch for the rise and fall of the chest. Continue breathing for the pet in the back seat of your car while a friend drives you to the emergency hospital.
2. Choking & Pet Heimlich Maneuver
Dogs are prone to chewing up and swallowing inedible objects. If something gets caught in the throat, they may choke to death before you can get veterinary help. A modified Heimlich maneuver can uncork the toy from his airway.
Pets are shaped differently than people but the same principle applies. Hold the pet’s back against your tummy with his head up, and locate the soft hollow beneath his ribs. Put a closed fist into the hollow. Use a thrusting action to pull in and up two or three times, toward your stomach.
If your dog is too big to lift, put him on his side as you kneel behind his back. With a closed fist in the hollow under his rib cage, and push up and in sharply, toward his head and your knees. Remove the object once it jars loose. If it doesn’t, you can continue the Heimlich in the back seat of your car while somebody drives you to the vet clinic for help.
3. Stopped Heart And CPR
Only perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you cannot detect a pulse and/or heartbeat. Place the flat of your palm behind your pet’s left “elbow” to feel for the heart.
When the heart has stopped beating, administer chest compressions at a rate of 80 to 100 per minute while a second person continues mouth-to-nose breathing. Getting the heart started can be extremely difficult. Veterinarians may give an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) to jump-start the heart.
4. Acupuncture Resuscitation
If all else fails and your unconscious pet doesn’t breathe and heart doesn’t beat, acupuncture resuscitation may work to stimulate the body’s own adrenalin surge. Use a needle, pin, or other sharp instrument. You must JAB the needle into the slit between the pet’s nose and upper lip, wiggle and twirl the needle until you see a response. This stimulates the release of natural adrenaline.
5. Bleeding & Shock
Direct pressure can slow or stop dangerous bleeding. Don’t wash heavily bleeding injuries, and concentrate on controlling the blood loss. Apply a thick gauze or cloth pad (even a sanitary napkin) to the wound and press firmly. If it soaks through, put another one on top and keep up the pressure. You can secure this in place by wrapping with layers of roll gauze, elastic ACE bandage.
Clear plastic wrap from the pantry works well to hold bandages in place, particularly for chest punctures or gaping wounds. It has some flexibility, sticks to itself, but doesn’t stick to fur.
A 10 to 15 percent blood loss can prompt shock—the body can’t get enough oxygen. For an 11-pound pet, that’s only 1 or 2 ounces. Pets can die within minutes from shock.
Pets act woozy and weak. They have trouble standing up, and may not know where they are. The gums first turn dark pin or red, but then fade to pale pink or gray-white within 5-10 minutes as the oxygen in the body is depleted.
Move an injured dog or cat as little as possible by placing them on an improvised stretcher such as an ironing board, cookie sheet or some other rigid platform. Then keep your injured pet warm and confined by wrapping in a blanket. Smear a bit of honey or Karo syrup on his gums to raise blood sugar levels.
6. Heat Stroke
Dogs and cats can’t sweat to cool off. Evaporation from panting for dogs, or from self-grooming and licking fur for cats, helps regulate body temperature. But when the outside air is the same or greater than pet temperature, heat stroke develops.
A body temperature of 104 to 106 constitutes mild heatstroke. You’ll see bright red gums and tongue and gums, sticky thick saliva, and fast panting. Air conditioning with a fan will quickly lower the pet’s body temperature. You can give the pet cool water to drink and ice cubes to lick to reduce his inside temperature.
Severe heat stroke happens when body temperatures go above 106 degrees. The gums and tongue go from bright red to pale. He may stagger and act dizzy. Nose bleeds, and bloody diarrhea and vomiting develop until he falls comatose. Soak the pet with the hose, or dunk him in ice water in the tub or sink. Ice bags (frozen vegetable bags work well) placed in his “armpit” and groin area help cool the blood where major blood vessels are close to the surface.
7. Hypothermia (Low Body Temperature)
In cats and dogs, normal temperature ranges from about 100 to 102.5 degrees. Mild hypothermia happens iff the pet’s temperature falls to 95 degrees. These pets still shiver, and may act lethargic. Bring the cat or dog inside, dry him off, and turn up the heat and he should recover with no problem.
When the temperature drops between 91 to 95 degrees, pets take longer to recover. For moderate hypothermia, help warm them up from the inside out with hot broth. Run a blanket or towel in the dryer and wrap him up in the warmth.
Most pet thermometers won’t register body temperatures of 90 degrees or less, and this severe condition is deadly. Pets stop shivering at this temperature, and their respiration and heartbeat slows down so much they may lose consciousness. Be prepared to perform CPR and/or rescue breathing. These pets need immediate veterinary intervention.
First aid is only that—the FIRST treatment given. So be sure to get your pet the vet as quickly as possible, once you’ve addressed the emergency.